Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Happy New Year, God Bless Us All

hum yes well I wonder where Aaro might have got the idea of writing a column on the general subject of "weirdo who spend altogether too much time obsessing about the lives of complete strangers on the internet" from?

We will be liveblogging the New Year's celebrations from a WiFi setup in a van parked outside Dave's house (this is a joke in case the police are reading). For what it's worth, it is not exactly difficult to work out who the two bruschettaboys are and only a little more difficult to guess the identity of the Rioja Kid and Vinnie ...

Update [by Backword Dave] I thought about writing on this, but the nonsense to anything-remotely-sensible ratio was just too high. Of the watched here, Dave is the better prose writer -- that is, his sentences sound better, his paragraphs build with more what-you-call-it, but, like Wagner, while the form is excellent, the meaning is bloody rubbish. Gerard Manley Hopkins once had fun with the word "buckle" (which has several meanings, see The Windhover). Big Dave (can we still call him that, didn't the late great (note pun) Ronnie Barker once say, "If you come home, and there's no one there, it's me, standing sideways"?) has some fun pretending (I assume he's not that daft) that all uses of "identity" are the same. I'd like to think he has a point, but Nigel Evans has a better one. (To a point. What I hated about having a credit card was that the whole number was on the monthly bill. What's the point of shredding the delivered bills, when a smart thief can raid the post office -- and yes, one of mine never turned up; so someone potentially had both my address and full card number.) ID as "financial details" should be protected. By you. I don't like that, but I'd like to leave my front door open as well. That's not as unsafe as you'd suppose in central Cardiff, but I have too much to lose (a G5 and monitor in the front room) if the gamble goes wrong. The same applies to ID theft. The risk is low, but what could be stolen is more than you can afford.

In his fourth para Dave moves seamlessly into "identity" as "name and date of birth" which is closer to "identity" as I understand it. Now as I understand his story of the long-long sperm donor, he wasn't asked, much less pressed for money. His biological son contacted him. That may be a surprise, but the son's right as I understand it.

But the good bit is the next para:

Discussing this story with my buddies down at the Giraffe café one morning, my friend Gunther (I have disguised his real name) told me about how he had come to know much more about a man in Dorset than he had any right to.

Anyone know what "any right to" means here?

Who needed Mr Zog’s chequebooks? The man was as available to the world as if he’d parked himself in the central reservation of the M1 with a sign over his head. With this difference — that he probably had no idea just how much information on him was available to anyone wanting to search for it.

Anyone wanting money, Dave?

What you can do for houses you can do for ex-boyfriends (in a phenomenon often known as Googlestalking). You can do it for people you are about to meet so as to amaze them with your comprehensive knowledge of their achievements and complex family arrangements. Feed you own postcode into Google and then follow the lives of those neighbours whom you don’t even know and who simply won’t say hello.

I've just done that (for ex-girlfriends, as I'm not gay, not that there's anything wrong with that). Buggered if I learned anything. They all seem to have university jobs in the US and have had since before I met any of them, which comes as a surprise, let me tell you.

I think Dave's point is that we shouldn't be worried by the government's proposed ID cards, since anyone can Google us, provided we have silly names and were the only survivor of the Boer War, so we should be happy to wear badges wide as a dinner plate telling all and sundry our ethic origin, bank details, and (let's do a comedy Aaro here) penis size.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Friday forecasts!

I don't remember why we let this tradition fall into abeyance, it was quite fun. My guess is that Nick will be looking back on a year in which all sorts of things happened and concluding that it's time to have another go at George Galloway.

Aaro ... maybe grammar schools? That certainly would confirm the "war in heaven" thesis.

Update: The "Bruschettabet" gambling website has just reported that a very large bet has been placed on "Brunei: this time it's political" by an unknown syndicate. The Jockey Club is investigating. If you have the password to the aaronovitchwatch@gmail.com account, use it. If you don't, don't bother asking (unless you are one of the contributors and you have forgotten it again). That's all I'm saying for now.

Run, Dave, Run

via Harry's Place, Aaro will be running in the London Marathon. I have made a donation in our name because we are nice.

Update: if Aaro shaved that beard off he would be the dead spit of Nigel Lawson.

Update2: I, the BD Bruschetta Boy, was going to post on this, but on logging in to Blogger I see I've been beaten to it. (Why do blogger pages get cached for me? Is it NTL, or is it an evil capitalist plot? Or both?) Anyway, Dave has a (not yet started) training diary here. I'm also pleased that he'll be running for The Anthony Nolan Trust which "takes back lives from leukaemia by managing, and recruiting new donors to, the UK's most successful bone marrow register." In other words, it complements the NHS. (I'm sceptical about cancer research charities in general: research should be done by drug companies who will eventually profit by a cure; if there's no payoff other than kudos -- which they get anyway -- I can't see why they wouldn't go on 'researching' forever.) Last time I ran the LM, I ran for McMillan which also works with, rather than seeks to replace, parts of the NHS.

I should also point out that Dave's target of £1500 isn't a ceiling: it's what his charity place "cost." If he raises less than that, he'll have to make the difference up, but there's no reason he shouldn't raise more (unless you know of someone running for the same charity who might have a shortfall, in which case you'd save them a few bob, and it all goes to the same cause).

Update3: [BD again] Although when I checked just now, Aaro was over a third of the way to his target, he's had very few donators, given the putative readerships of Harry's Place and Normblog. One reason for this could be that most blog-reading is done on weekdays as a skive by office workers, and many readers are presumably off Christmas shopping or something more interesting. Another could be that a couple of days before Christmas, after the parties, the present-buying, and the next-year-holiday-planning is not an ideal time to be asking for money. But a third reason strikes me: Aaro has not been well served by the generosity of his patrons, who have pledged or given, in chronological order, so far (before tax addition) £50, £100, £10, £75, £50, £80, and £50. There are a lot of blog readers out there, and I'm sure our man would raise more money if they all gave a little money, rather than a few giving a lot. So don't let the fear of being seen as stingy deter you.

International decentism explained

I think Brendan O'Neill is a Furediite (he's certainly appeared in "spiked" magazine), but nevertheless, this piece on antiwar.com is a rather good summary of a lot that is wrong with Aaronovitchite Decentism and the politics of self-image.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Nicks dalek piece in The Evening Standard today. Where does the joke start and where does it end? Is there a joke at all? Surely he can't mean any of it, can he?

Update 27/12 (BD) Nick's webmaster seems remarkably shy about putting the piece in question up on the blog, so here for your edification and delight it is.

ON CHRISTMAS Day, BBC1 will present a peace-loving Dr Who.
A fictional British PM will implicitly rebuke Tony Blair when she says of the American President: "He is not my boss and he is certainly not turning this into a war."
As the writer, Russell T Davies, emphasised: "There is absolutely an antiwar message because that's what I believe."
I won't go on about BBC bias; if the governors don't want to tackle it, that's up to them. I just wonder if Davies reads his own scripts.
At the end of his last series, Rose used the power of the Tardis to inflict genocide on the Daleks without as much as a second UN resolution.
True, the Daleks wanted to exterminate the human race. But Davies must know that exterminating is a part of the Dalek way of life. As a good BBC liberal, he should not have imposed his values on them but respected their cultural identity.
After all, the fascistic culture of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party allowed the extermination of the Kurds, the Communists, the trade unionists, the Jews, the Freemasons, the Shia, the Marsh Arabs, the Iranians and the Kuwaitis. If the broadminded Davies would have allowed the Ba'ath to stay in power, why is he so judgmental about the Daleks?

The whole thing is online. As I believe that one of my colleagues has a greater understanding of economics than myself (not hard) perhaps he'd also care to explain:

The net has changed many things. It is keeping inflation down and stopping British consumers from being ripped off by allowing us to compare prices. I couldn't live without it. I'm writing a book which would be impossible without the net. The weblogs give me access to arguments the mainstream media ignore.

Is the net keeping inflation down? Is keeping inflation down a good thing? I managed to compare prices before the net; it used to be called "window shopping." And -- yawn -- Nick does the usual hack thing of doing down the "mainstream media". Where does he think he works? If he makes these arguments, the "mainstream media" can't be said to ignore them. If he doesn't, why doesn't he? (As a philosophical aside, I'm inclined to think that the number of possible arguments is very limited; the number of facts, or things to argue about, however, tends toward infinity. Just as all jokes stick to a few structures with only the names of ethnic minorities or hair colour changing, so there are very few possible arguments.)

Dave's "apology"

Matthew Norman in today's "Independent" media section is less than impressed by Dave's defiant artcle in last weeks "Times". Must be something about people called Matthew.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

War in heaven?

Well well. Nick on Sunday says "people who take freebies from dictatorships are bastards". Dave on Tuesday says "people who bang on about Routemasters are wankers"[1]. Have sharp words been exchanged as Nick gatecrashed the Times knees-up (or vice versa)? Leave it boys, it's the beer talking, you're best mates really.

I actually quite liked the Aaro column (mainly because he had a go at the Furediites, in a week when the Guardian decided to do a profile of Furedi himself) although I very, very much doubt if all the references to Cameron and Hague were just off-the-cuff thoughts rather than trailers for something ominous. Rather hilarious that, as RK says, Dave honestly appears to believe that it is our duty to reorganise our lives around the government's plans for us rather than vice versa. But it's reasonably well-meaning stuff, albeit that when he talks about people being unable to pull themselves up a flight of stairs on a bus, it is hard to avoid the uncharitable thought that something fatter than pure altruism is at work.

PS: Possibly a subbing error, but it was a slag heap that buried the school at Aberfan. "Slurry" is a posh word for shit, and it would be inordinately difficult to build a heap out of slurry on even slightly sloping ground.

Update! Dave has emailed me (yes he has, do you think I'm lying or something!) to point out that the phrase "Coal slurry" is used repeatedly in the report of the inquiry into the Aberfan disaster. I was entirely wrong on that one apparently, so apologies to Dave, the Times subeditors and you our loyal readers, in roughly that order.

[1] This is the only mention of Routemasters in Nick's online Standard columns, but there have been loads of them, enough for it to have become practically a running joke in Cohen In The Standard Watch.

regulation man

Nick decided to launch Christmas week by pissing in his readers’ punchbowl. Having better tradecraft, Dave decided to go with the lighter side of public affairs as a complement to the forthcoming saturnalia. And call me an old softy, but I do believe that Aaro’s stumbled over his niche. Gawd bless me if it isn’t a true, open and honest statement of his beliefs, with nary a peeve, a niggle nor an attempt at l’esprit d’escalier over the slights of dinner parties past.

Yes, Dave is regulation man. He loves these little laws that make our lives more civilised in a thousand and one ways and wants us all to shut up grousing about them. And truth be told, there’s a point to make. Complaints about regulation are getting as wearisome as the regulations themselves. Aaro’s warm, bearlike embrace of restriction hits that snack contrarian sweet spot opinion professionals like to aim for.

Of course, there’s a contrast here between his advocacy of public micromanagement and his earlier statement that the government can be excused for the failure of the CSA because no-one can understand the complexity of the human heart – as though the rest of human life wasn’t equally as complex.

But nonetheless, I think we’ve hit upon the heart of Dave. He’s abandoned the idea that political agency can bring about any worthwhile major change. But it can send us love notes and bring us flowers. In minor matters, the state is our safety blanket. It can plant wet kisses on our foreheads, take us gently by the elbows and guide us through the minor pitfalls of life, wiping our noses and minding our p’s and q’s for us.

OK, good. This is default Dave. We now have the yardstick by which to judge his various peeves and grumbles. It’s amazing what a freebie to a repressive Muslim regime can do for a man’s inner certitude. Nick should try it sometime.

Rioja Kid

Monday, December 19, 2005

I don't want a holiday in the sun

Nick on the evils of holidaying in repressive Muslim regimes.

Dave, on the delights of holidaying in repressive Muslim regimes.

Coincidence? Conspiracy? Calculated insult? In-joke? Come on people. We at AW have known that the Brunei bit was coming, but in the same week as Nick tees off on the Maldives?

Nick's position is that because the Maldives practices torture, you should not go there on holiday. (I am not sure whether this means that you should not be bundled there against your will if you are a terrorist suspect; in principle Nick is against this but hey what if there was a ticking time bomb). On the other hand, political reform is at hand in the Maldives and soon the current vicious government is likely to be overthrown. Nick's conclusion:

If the reaction to the fall of Saddam Hussein is a guide, the liberal-minded among them won't like it.

Well Nick it all really depends on how many hundred thousand people get slaughtered by an ill-planned war in the process doesn't it? Sorry by the way Maldivians, you might have thought that this col was about you, but actually you're just scenery for a punchline about Nick's domestic political enemies over That Bloody War. Once more, the Munchausen-by-proxy version of Carly Simon Syndrome. With, quite possibly, a strong element of Nick trying to claim dibs on a seat on the first junket plane of the democratic era.

In related news, he fills out the last 200 words of the col with the hoary old crystallized fruit joke Pit. Tee. Full.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Tu Quoque Watch

Oh dear, from NC in the Standard, after moaning on about how the police don't nick those drunken louts (also basing his arguments on four-year-old statistics hack hack hack; not that he's necessarily wrong but would have killed him to look up the right ones?). Nick moves on to talk about the putative fact that he's never heard an anti-war politico given a hard time on the Today program, "not even George Galloway".

The best BBC reporters think their way out of it and are among the most admirable people in journalism as a result. But on programmes such as Today the prejudices are now so open they are tainting the whole corporation.

The solution is to appoint broad-minded editors who can point out to their staff – forcefully if need be – that a political philosophy is not necessarily moral or coherent or true just because everyone you eat with and sleep with shares it.

All together now ... "and so should the Observer".

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

they're snorting at Dave

Oh, lordy, will Dave’s sense of entitlement never end?

The snort says: “What you are arguing is ridiculous and everyone knows it.” So it is a snort on behalf of everyone. And, for a long time now, the snort has been deployed against those who argue that the invasion and occupation of Iraq are anything other than a disaster.

Well, yes, you’re on the minority side of an argument. You’re a poor, lonely oppressed creature, dedicated to lighting a small flame of truth in that hand cranked, occluded beacon of samizdata known as the Times. You’re the poor, lonely, harassed supporter of the policy of a poor, lonely harassed, misunderstood government, itself the junior partner of a poor, lonely, harassed, misunderstood, global superpower. Everyone’s agin’ you and it’s just not fair.

As we’ve seen, Nick’s been ploughing the same furrow recently, which is maybe somewhat excusable in a man who’s basically politically homeless. Dave as the fleshly manifestation of superpower self pity is an ugly sight precisely because he’s such a devotee of conventional wisdom. The government does stuff, he says why it’s a good thing, and we’re cool with that. Such is the natural order. Any reversal of that, and Dave hears the echoes of the tumbrils rolling down Upper Street, London, N1.

There’s a lack of deference on the radio, and the voices multiply in Dave’s head. They issue contemptuous snorts. Apologise, Dave! They say. I don’t know whether there are actual voices in Dave’s head, of course. But he doesn’t provide any concrete indication that they come from anywhere else.

Third para in he turns on Matthew Parris as a physical manifestation of the mysterious snorters, rather in the same way that a concussed drunk will lash out randomly at an A & E nurse in casualty. There may be some significance to this. There’s clearly some kind of cat fight going on in pundit world about whose conventional wisdom is the wisest and most conventional, and this seems to be turning on the Iraq debacle. And here, Dave has some ground to make up. Take this last sentence as an excuse to reprise the line that if WMD don’t turn out to be there I’ll never believe another word this government tells me.”

Sadly, he muffs it:

Compared with what, though? A disaster compared with what, precisely? Not compared with nothing, since there was no nothing in Iraq.

By the same logic, rural Pakistan is poverty stricken and mullah-haunted. Now you say that the recent earthquake was a disaster. A disaster compared with what, precisely? Not compared with nothing, since there was no nothing in Pakistan. Shorter version: two disasters make a right.

But the formal argument is by the by. What’s at stake here is a man’s credibility as a pundit, a credibility threatened by events set in train by a policy he supported. And what’s interesting about that is that he feels the need to make something of an apology after all in order to restore that credibility.

Side note: In the argument in Dave’s head, the left is collectively represented by some obscure, extreme and unnamed fringe group. The right, as a collectivity, is represented by that fine fellow Matthew Parris. Way to marginalize, Dave!

Rioja Kid

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The World Turned Upside Down

"Before you go to a left-wing meeting, brace yourself for the likelihood that everyone you meet in the hall will be standing on their heads."

Nick Cohen, 12th December 2005.

I'm barely interested in blogging at the moment, I just don't feel moved to the sort of anger which occasions a post most of the time, and what time I'd otherwise give over posting goes to watch Seinfeld DVDs or recoding the backend of my blog, and it's all a bit of a mess, so I'll need to get my finger out before I can blog again. But there's one subject which still interests me, and strikes me as important, and I'm not seeing it covered by our crusading columnists. And this isn't a question of left or right, but one of fundamental human decency.

The still-reliable Telegraph: EU concealed deal with US to allow 'rendition' flights:

The European Union secretly allowed the United States to use transit facilities on European soil to transport "criminals" in 2003, according to a previously unpublished document. The revelation contradicts repeated EU denials that it knew of "rendition" flights by the CIA.

And someone on the Scotsman knows how to write with quite devastating irony 'Torture flight' inquiry ruled out:

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out a judicial inquiry into claims the US has used UK airports to fly terror suspects abroad for torture.
He repeated assurances that an internal investigation had found no record of any requests for "extraordinary rendition" flights to pass through the UK.
But, despite facing accusations that such denials were worthless, he rejected the idea of an independent inquiry.
Human rights groups and several EU governments have raised concerns over reports that suspects are being taken to countries with questionable human rights records.

Of course, saying Uzbekistan has a "questionable human rights record" is like saying David Blunkett has "questionable 20:20 vision."

This story concerns us. It concerns our elected leaders' judgement. No doubt Aaro could write another Times piece (backed with more evidence that he is accustomed to supplying) hounding previous Tory governments for what we now call human rights abuses in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Aaro is good on the faults of the defeated. He doesn't help or pardon, and he doesn't waste a lot of breath on "Alas" either. The faults of the present shower, however, ... well, "look over there, Tories!" and "over there, Terrorists!" Do you want them to win? Tories, terrorists, tyrants, traitors, tetrahedra, tyrannosauri, any of them?

I've started getting emails from the New Republic. I must have signed up ages ago, but clearly they have a new web policy or some peachy keen intern or something. And the most recent one (which I got yesterday, and ignored) promoted Andrew Sullivan's The Abolition of Torture. Now I blow hot and cold on Andrew Sullivan as much as anyone. Sometimes he's perceptive, funny, and articulate. Most of the time, he's on autopilot, and too often on his blog, he's flaky and hobby-horse riding. But still, it's like gambling: you don't win often but it's the times you do that you remember.

Sullivan's subtitle is "Winning The War On Terrorism Without Sacrificing Freedom" and that's why I publishing this here. I disagree with both Nick and Dave's takes on TWAT (The War Against Terror), but that's normal. Andrew Sullivan is probably a lot closer to their positions (closer to DA than NC, I think), and he doesn't like the government he's supported.

What does it mean to "break" an individual? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South.
What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another. Not just confinement of his mobility--the abolition of his very agency. Torture uses a person's body to remove from his own control his conscience, his thoughts, his faith, his selfhood.

(Yes, he's read Foucault.) We're not getting this in home-grown war supporters. Big Dave's good on the faults on Saddam, and so silent on abuses at home that you could test your stereo with him (do you hear anything? No? That's our Dave, quieter than electronic hiss.) I know possibly more regimes than I can count, let alone can name, are cruel in their own unique way. That's not for us; torture is for totalitarians. Norm points the finger at the Germans who knew the Holocaust was going on, but didn't speak out. (Well they were busy; there were the Reds to worry about, and the decadence of modern art and jazz, and, oh, those jewish conspiracies! I'm trying not to think, in order, of HP, Melanie Phillips, and Scott Burgess*.)

To go back to Seinfeld:

Jerry: The best revenge is living well.
George: There's no chance of that.

Season 2, Episode 12, The Revenge

When you can't beat them, join them. Maybe I should rephrase that.

*Because I believe in the Da Vinci Code, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the Project. There's nothing like the truth, and all of those, etc.

Is this the apology Dave promised?

"If Iraq becomes a democracy, the consequences for the rest of the Middle East would be profound. If it becomes a basket case, then people like me will owe the world an apology. David". D.Aaronovitch, December 1993.

Is Dave's 13th December Times article the apology ? It doesn't work for me, you need to try harder Dave.

Get those digits dialling!

Brightening up my Sunday another example of the genre. Thick with "Only Don't Connects" and with the "Errant Filofax" – surely Nick is going to want to write something about ID cards and the database state before the spring thaws, in which context this bit of scaremongering will look a bit uncomfortable. And of course, the creeping thick black mist of Melanie Philips, the nutters and deviates stalking our streets and our government does nothing! Cthulu f'taughn!

But the most obvious theme of this week's col is the good old "chair which bears the impression of the last arse to have sat on it". Nick is ranting up a storm (and I am commenting interstitially):

"The government plans to abolish the probation service."

Does it? Does it really? That would seem to be quite a step change and perhaps something that might have attracted quite a little bit of comment.

" In its place will be a phoney market where private companies and religious charities will bid against existing staff for contracts to supervise criminals."

Christ, that would be a very radical departure and something that really hasn't been tried at all anywhere else except maybe the BBC. I would certainly be worried about that.

" Much the same privatisation process threatens the unity of the National Health Service"

Oh … hang on … so in other words the probation service hasn't been abolished at all, any more than the NHS has. Right. What's happening is that probation boards are being abolished, to be replaced with probation trusts, which then commission probations from either the probation service or from Group 4. Seems like a fairly fucking silly idea to me, but it isn't, factually, the much dafter proposal Nick was talking about. I suppose that Charlie Clarke would even argue that it might free up the probation service's time to deal with the actually dangerous villains while letting Group 4 and Tesco take over the soul-sapping Little Britain vignettes of dealing with the million and one ASBO offenders coming their way.

See, after having yukked it up with John Lloyd over the evils of the British media and how they never give Tony a fair crack o'the whip, Nick immediately does the same thing himself; he's not Good Tony the Defender Of the Oppressed this week, he's That Bastard Blair. And the reason's quite clear; Harry Fletcher of the probation officers' union got through to him on the phone. It's like a local radio DJ; lucky seventh caller gets a fierce polemic written about their particular issue of concern in the Sunday papers. If you see an item in next week's Observer about the scandalous price of balsamic vinegar these days, you'll know my number's come up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cry me a river

Oh, and he's cracked one out for the Staggers too. Minor factual …

But if CND doesn’t invite speakers from the Ministry of Defence or American embassy - and it doesn’t - and never issues a press release condemning Iran – ditto

There you are boss.

(Google "cnd iran", third result). I think Nick's issue here is that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is concerned with nuclear disarmament, rather than the promotion of democracy and Decency worldwide. Perhaps he thought the initials stood for Campaign for Nick and Dave?

Also notable … the Worker Communist Party of Iran make another appearance. I mentioned a few posts ago that the root of Cohen's politics at present is that he is a chair which bears the impression of the last arse to have sat on him, and presumably it was Maryam Namazie who got through on the speed dial this week. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but it seems pretty clear to me (and pretty important to a wider understanding of what's going on) that Nick's outpourings don't actually reflect his considered view of what's important at the moment; rather, they reflect what passed across his desk during the dark hours before deadline. The difference between Tweedledumb and Tweedledangerous can now be summed up rather pithily; Aaronovitch is a "hack" in the political sense, while Nick is one in the journalistic sense.

Since it is the WCPI we are talking about, I must once more remind the room that they did not support the invasion of Iraq and indeed consider themselves to be strongly of the "anti-imperialist" tendency. It's an irritating past habit of NC's to parade loudly his "solidarity" with various overseas movements of the left who agree with him on some issues but who agree with people he vehemently condemns on others.

The stuff about Searchlight I cannot comment on, other than to say that if you've "read an article about how Combat 18 is recruiting from soccer thugs", then you've read a pack of bollocks. C18 has been basically out of business for at least five years and it never "recruited" at all; it was always a small cadre organization (lots of people believe that it was a pseudo-gang set up by Special Branch in order to infiltrate Loyalist terrorist organizations and the way in which it was run certainly suggests that it was led by enemies of Fascism). I don't believe that Searchlight magazine did actually ever propagate this kind of crap, by the way.

On the subject of "the mainstream liberal press and parts of the BBC" and the "left wing blogs", all I can say is cry me a fucking river, build a bridge and get over it. Melanie Philips and Carol Gould are waiting on the other side and you can still get the Times, the Standard, the Guardian and the New Statesman delivered.

Wedded bliss

Cohen in the Standard again. Oh dear, the "free market in economics" versus the "free market in sexual relations", an idea that presumably started over a boozy lunch and should have stayed there.

For all that anyone cares, the financial incentives to get married, did certainly mean that more people got married. It's a very well established empirical fact. But the more general message is that Nick wants the government back in the boardroom and "society" back in the bedroom. I don't propose to spend any more time explaining why this is rubbish than Nick spent writing the

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

taste and decency

OK, a brief summing up of Dave’s latest but with passing reference to one howler. Dave cites evidence that torture works, using the following instance:

One newspaper pointed out that McCain himself had collapsed after four days of beatings at the “Hanoi Hilton” and signed a war crimes confession. “That McCain broke under torture doesn’t make him any less of an American hero,” said the paper, “but it does prove he’s wrong to claim that harsh interrogation techniques simply don’t work.”

Torture is supposed to work, not because people confess to things, but because they confess to things that they actually did. QED, John McCain is a war criminal, by Aaro’s logic.

Establishing the boundaries of taste in discussion of a tricky subject like torture is a difficult act to maintain, and by and large he does a competent job of the ideological policing involved. Let’s review:

Dave cites the Der Spiegel figure of over 400 CIA flights passing through European airspace. He then conflates this with the Washington Post list of 20-30 detainees to say that the practice of torture is therefore not widespread. That follows if the only people being flown through Europe are the people listed by the Washington Post and if the Washington Post list is complete. Dave then cites Liberty’s request for more information over what might be going on as confirmation of his assertion that very little is in fact going on. He also characterizes this request as an admission. Even those civil rights loonies succumb to the skeptical eye of Dave.

Dave mentions some of the milder forms of torture authorized by the US government, but somehow forgets about other permitted information extraction techniques, for instance hanging people up by their elbows and simulated drowing/suffocation. Funny how that didn’t stick in his mind.

Every person who Dave mentioned as being subjected to torture turns out to be al Qaeda affiliated. Once again something seems to have slipped his mind, namely that the lead in the Der Spiegel story concerns a man who the US now admits was completely innocent.

Dave’s not such a fool as to come out in favour of torture. He comes out in favour of being as little like our oppressors as possible, which given the fact that he seems to think that not much is going on and then only to bad actors sounds more like distrinction of taste than anything else. But the possibility that a good deal more of it might be going on, and to people with no connection to terrorism, well that’s just “x-files stuff.” It’s not something that decent people talk about if they want to be included in a serious conversation. Like the bruschetta boy says, there are aesthetics to consider.

- Rioja Kid

Monday, December 05, 2005

Only Don't Connect

Nothing much to object to in this week's Nick piece; he is back on domestic issues and away from the Greatest Intellectual Conflict of Our Times and thus much more congenial reading. On the other hand, I suspect that this is not because he is calming down with the prospect of troop withdrawal, deciding to mend a few fences and generally wandering back onto the reservation. It's just as likely that it just happens to be the case that the kind of person he talks to on domestic policy is just more likely to be someone who seems sane to me and my lot than the kind of person he talks to about foreign policy.

I say this because of the disturbing lack of connection between different weeks of columnism. This week, Nick is telling us about a monstrous conspiracy of the medical establishment to blacken the name of one of its critics in order to shore up a tragicomic piece of medical incompetence (the invention of "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy" out of eight parts statistical fallacy to two parts whole cloth[1] by Professor Sir Roy Meadows). But hang on … was it the week before last or the week before that that the same Nick Cohen was telling us that there were no such things as medical cover-ups and conspiracies and anyone who thought they were was a loony? Why yes it was, and specifically a loony that ought to be sued into insolvency as punishment for raising the question. Surely there's some need to join the dots here – to acknowledge that public panics about health and their failure to be reassured by the government and the scientists, has its root in the fact that politicians and scientists lie, one hell of a lot? If the government isn't competent to run the CSA, why does it make sense to be a humanitarian interventionist? This compartmentalization of the mind is another worrying sign; I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say it's one of the Seals of Dacre but it's another characteristic of a certain kind of politics. In the meantime, it's just worth noting that while Aaro is explicitly attempting to generalize his Iraq War epiphany into a more fully-worked-out politics of Decentism[2], Nick is just a chair who bears the impression of the last arse to have sat on him, still fulminating wildly at a slightly different set of targets. Paradoxically, this means that Nick is less dangerous and potentially pernicious than Aaro.

[1] Plus one part genuine child-murder, obviously. There are some parents who murder their children; not all that many, but some, and it is highly likely that quite a few of them have got away with it as a result of the collapse of Meadows as a reliable witness. In fact, given a few back-of-envelope calculations about the frequency and virulence of measles epidemics, it seems to me that it would be a brave man who said that the MMR panic would be responsible for more child deaths than the complete discrediting of MSBP as a genuine disease.
[2] Although I maintain that Aaronovitchite Decentism is fundamentally an aesthetic rather than a political system of thought at present, however.

It's all gone quiet over there.

It's been some time since Dave or Nicky boy wrote anything about the situation in Iraq. Any thoughts as to why this may be? I am reminded of Dave's December 2003 comment;
"If Iraq becomes a democracy, the consequences for the rest of the Middle East would be profound. If it becomes a basket case, then people like me will owe the world an apology. David".